Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The link between the mortgage market and recovery from the recession

Ted Muftic is a chief investment officer for private equity firm focused on real estate.For his credentials, see www.mufticforum.com/about us 

Usually the Government can do some good, but not when it comes to changing the fundamental dynamics of a  “bubble burst”.  I see no current nor historical evidence of government intervention in reversing a burst ever actually working.    I generally agree with the administration on a range of economic matters, but I feel they let their political instincts get in the way of sound policy.  I thought we would hit bottom nationally in home prices by the Fall of 2010. I predicted this in Fall of 2008 before all of the attempts to “stabilize” the market came from Washington.  These policies had some positive impact on prices, as well as the effect of improper foreclosures practices being discovered, but now we are heading back down.  I would expect this to put a drag on economic activity of about .5% this year, but no second dip recession.  Most of the impact will be felt in markets that haven’t experienced much declines, such as the mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S.  I would not be a buyer of homes in those markets personally.  There will eventually be a bottom of the market – but the severity of the decline will actually be directly linked to the mortgage market recovering strongly, and underwriting standards loosening.  Again, now is the absolutely worst time to try and “resolve” the Fannie/Freddie “issue”.  Also, Fannie and Freddie mortgages that have at least 20% down payment should be allowed to be packaged, sold, and held by banks without any requirement for a 5% withholding of capital in reserves.  These types of mortgage have historically represented the safest, most reliable products around – and they will be the backbone of the recovery in home values and consumer confidence.
Theodore B. Muftic
Chief Investment Officer
Invenio Capital

Why do they hate us?

On Morning Joe today someone asked about Muslims: Why do they hate us?  It was a key questions and
no one even ventured to give an opinion.
It is important we understand the why's of the conflicts; if we do not, we are in danger of undertaking the wrong policies toward the Muslim world that have and will continue to backfire on our national security interests.We have already committed blunders bulling our way into ethnic and factional conflicts we do not understand, such as happened in  Iraq and in the future possibly  in Syria and Bahrain.

Since the election of Pres. Obama, international polls show Muslims worldwide  hate us less and over 90% do not believe that 9/11  's killing of innocents was  justified. Most Muslims do not embrace the ideology of Al Qaeda and the jihadists.  Putting that in perspective, there are shades of approval and disapproval of the  US  throughout the Muslim world. Given that reality, where are  those who disapprove or hate coming from?
Most of those Americans who express opinions have never met a Muslim...understandable in our Fortress America where there are few Muslims next door, and even then, they are concentrated in a few states and cities.
For most Americans the picture of the Muslim next door is one bent over his computer plotting to bomb the New York subway, an army base, an airplane, and Times Square. Indeed, some  are misguided (considered so by  even their parents), male youth who have bought into some Imam's rantings conveyed from the Middle East. on a Web site and by email. The rest are law abiding Congressmen, businesspeople, students and a generation of African-American converts from the Black Muslim movement of the '60's just trying to live the American dream. That is the sum total of  tiny minority of Muslims in the US.
Then...why are there angry, radical Imams abroad?
It's complicated.

Since my university studies in Europe in the late 1950's, I have been fascinated by the interface between the Western  and the Muslim cultures.  Having met a medical student from the Balkans, whom I contemplated marrying (and we have been married now for over 50 years), I travelled extensively there to understand his family and his roots. I  returned to Northwestern University and devoted my classroom  and independent studies to try to get a handle on the history and ethnic conflicts that made the Balkans such a laboratory of religious and ethnic strife . In fact, the conclusion of our seminars and professor in 1960 was that there would be a revolt against the modern world resulting in a counter revival of  a more conservative and militant Islam.
   These experiences  inspired my life long quest   to gain  a better understanding of Islam and the Muslim world outside the Balkans.  However, much of the current interpretation of Islam held by both some  in the Muslim world and  the criticism of the  religion itself by some  Americans  in no way resembles the practice of the religion by traditional  Muslims I have known in the Balkans. My 30 years of activities in the Institute of International Education  providing hospitality to many many Muslim women from all over the world visiting the US under State Department  sponsorship confirms my impression that the practice of  Islam
varies greatly from country to country.

My view of this cultural and religious conflict has not been fossilized in the 1950's.   I  have had the unique opportunity to visit the Balkan  region nearly every couple of years since then , before and after the ethnic  cleansing wars of the 1990's. My interaction has not been at the official level...just with family, relatives and many ordinary people. I have  admittedly been influenced by some writings: Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God" comparing the roots of radicalization and politicization of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and CNN producer Peter Bergen's book of an often first hand accounting of  the history of Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, "The Longest War".

I am not a partisan of  the religions in conflict...Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, or
Muslim. I am a practicing  Protestant with an ecumenical and tolerant outlook. I find these conflicts based on ethnic and religious identification to be self defeating and a disaster for those caught up in it, not only resulting in the death of innocents, but relegating them to economic and cultural isolation and having to play catch up with the rest of the technologically advanced world. So that is where I am coming from as I list some reasons I believe they hate us.

1. A  belief espoused by some in the US has not gone unnoticed:  that the Muslim religion is evil and we should take practitioners at its word. That only plays into the radical Muslim belief that it is indeed a battle between  religions and it is the Americans that are launching a new Crusade   For Americans it   is  matter of  ignorance of the wide variations  in interpretations of the Koran. The Islamic world is as divided as the Christian world in the sects, philosophies and the application of law and customs.There are conservatives and liberals as well as secularists who believe religion and government should not mix. There are conflicts between Shia and Sunni whose loyalties and religious differences make protestant-Catholic Irish troubles look like child's play . The Shia see Iran as their homeland; the Sunni dominate in North Africa and much of the Arab world. When one takes a Muslim at their word, the response should be which Muslims, what words, which interpretation of the Koran and which  in what way they translate that into action. We should  tailor make policies to the individual circumstances..
2. Western dependence on oil has led the West to support or cut deals with brutal dictatorship who imprisoned, tortured any one who did not march to their tune. Victims who blamed the West for supporting their oppressors have made up much of the Al Qaeda cadres. Pres. Obama's reaction to the uprisings is key to changing those elements of resentment.  In the long term, removing our dependence on mid east oil would make a profound change in our interaction with the Middle East.
3. Cultural Westernization    has resulted in resistance to change and a push back with greater conservative religious fervor. Such conservative movements have turned  into political action.  That revolt against changing values  is not unique to the Mid East. I am forever amazed at the similarities with the political Evangelical movements in the US and the return to old values and culture in the Middle East. One recent example:one of  the Muslim Brotherhood's political platforms, as Egypt tries to find itself post Mubarak,  is supporting Islamist candidates because secular governments might permit gay marriage.

4.  A festering thorn in the side of Muslims  is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...unresolved with no progress in sight . There are those who did not even want a resolution; they want Israel just to go way.  Given US popular support of Israel , that one is something  the Muslim world may never accept and it will continue to give wings to the radicals.

5. There is a large demographic bulge in the numbers of young adults who  have now learned from uncensored satellite TV and the Internet that there is another world out there which is not corrupt or oppressive of their rights to express themselves without fear of  being arrested, tortured, and worse, by their own governments. They blame those governments for retarding their economic development and job opportunities. Until recently, the US got the blame for support of these governments  Pres. Obama's profound contribution to changing that perception is befriending the youth movements .

Monday, March 28, 2011

The liberals' missing link: war defense and spending priorities

As another  deadline breathes down our neck for Congress to agree on the budget, it is not just the Right that is basing their priorities on ideology, so is the Left. What I am hearing is the line: if we just cut defense and/or cut out  the budget for conducting war or something that looks like it, then we could have more money for education, entitlements, environment, etc. One missing link in that logical equation is the power make it happen. 

So long as the House is held by Republicans, the Tea Party rages on determined to shrink spending and federal debt on the backs of discretionary social spending, and defense contracts and special interests benefit   members' of Congress' districts, the power for the Democratic left  to shift spending from one line item of the budget to another line item is nil.

Likewise, the Liberal argument that we should shift the tax burden to the rich to fund entitlements or increase taxes in someway is likewise a pie in the sky political dream.  There was not the political will or power to even end the Bush tax cuts to the rich.   Instead, the left needs to give serious thought to the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission to restructure the entire tax system and to embrace the Commissions' analysis that the federal deficit reduction cannot rely just on government spending cuts, but the revenue side must also be boosted in the process and that the Health Care Reform Act is indeed a necessary contribution to entitlement cost reduction.  These are positions liberals can embrace.
There is nothing wrong with the Left making their case, or setting their priorities as worthy goals, but their advocacy should not be at the expense of weakening either the President's chances for re-election or for stopping the GOP from taking over the Senate, too, in 2012. The left should not be tilting  windmills given the fact that the nation is so evenly divided and only a few states shifting votes one way or the other could
make their goals even more of an unreachable dream.

Simpson-Bowles recommendations for overhauling the tax structure would not only have the benefit of shuffling the deck to lower taxes for all, but it would have a profound political benefit as well: ending special interest tax breaks that cause institutional corruption.. Members of Congress are  being held hostage to campaign donations    that would benefit their contributors. No campaign finance reform legislation would ever have a greater impact in  reforming a  corrupt system than that.

I also depart from the left on one important issue: a blanket tying of our hands in conduct of a foreign policy or national security goals in the future. in advance to strangle our ability to react to changing and future circumstances.  I agree with Pres. Obama  that war is sometimes necessary in the pursuit of peace. Those who oppose military action in instances in which humanitarian causes or sending messages to others are at stake have an unrealistic view of protecting national interests.  Both of those are at stake in the Libyan action: Failure to act would have sent the message that the US still supported oppressive dictatorships even when the future leaders of that country rise up in revolt. The future success of US foreign policy in the middle eastern region depends upon our finesse in riding the tiger of the youth revolts. The old order changeth...and if the US can be seen as supporting the new order, we may have the ability to  yank the rug out from under such ilk as Al Qaeda, who has garnered sympathy and support from those who were in personal revolt against the 30 to 40 year history of oppressive leaders who were backed by the US.

We also cannot provide military support for every revolution in the Mid East.. We know that.  Criteria for intervention must be support from the Arab League as well as  military feasibility, and we must have multi lateral support, or else we will look like he Imperialists the youth had always supposed were were. Support, other than military intervention, should  also be an option if military support is not feasible.

 One other consideration  might be the impact on our tussle with Iran. So much of the Arabian politics is tied up in that struggle between Sunnis and Shia  and we need to be sensitive to it.  Both Syria and Bahrain are part of that complex picture; Libya is not. One of the unanticipated negative fall outs of our Iraq invasions was to upset the balance of power..and strengthen our true enemy in the region, Iran.

 We cannot bull ourselves into such complex situations without carefully calculating the impact on the entire region, not just  the impact on  one country.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A beautiful email that moved me to tears

I am posting an email I got this morning that moved me to tears with its beauty and thought. It is from a Croatian American of similar age of my Croatian born husband, whom I met in Berlin in the middle of the Cold War. It speaks to today in clear words. see the full text at http://www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com/: From: "Radenkofanuka@aol.com" <mailto:Radenkofanuka@aol.com%3EAdd sender to ContactsTo: feliciamuftic@mufticforum.comYou are invited to view the writings of author Radenko Fanuka.

America and the world need the kind of leaders Pope John Paul II and the former U. S. President Ronald Reagan were. A great American, Ronald Reagan, lived with a very strong and deeply planted healthy life’s, psychology and philosophy roots. He lived with the world children’s mothers’ and fathers’ warm, good hearts.
Just like the Berlin wall, but a much larger wall, was designed for this world in someone’s very unhealthy human mind before Berlin wall was ever built. However, in the meantime, good innocent children and young, as well as the old innocent people, were burned, killed and died. They left behind them a very wounded world, wounded in many different ways. The world always has, and it will wake up, very late. The world should not have to die for one, or for a very few unhealthy human minds. If the world must die, it should die for ALL. In World War II, in a short time, a very long life and death’s history was made. A long century, the deep sea, rivers and creeks, wild grass, flowers and trees will talk about it, and it will take too long to heal the remnants of that history. What has occurred to this Nature in W. W. II, directly or indirectly, could not be any worse, because this world is no different than one large family or a spider web. However, this was not enough so the Berlin wall was created without any human sorrow or without any sound and healthy world’s life psychology or philosophy. Sadly, IT was built, and it remained up for too long. Berlin wall was erected between parents and children, brothers and sisters, as well as friends. This wall was built between the world’s average good people of one nation. However, at the same time, a political war was established, and still remains, between all of us good people of this world. A sad, unhealthy history exists. We, people, build fences for the animals to be able to see through them and for the good innocent people, we build concrete, solid walls.
Ronald Reagan, a great American and our former U. S. President, introduced a very healthy power to the world, during his presidential term. It was a similar power that springtime introduces to its love, Nature. With simple love, sorrow and respect, Ronald Reagan helped to tear down and destroy the cold, concrete, solid wall and he built a strong life’s bridge between the Germans of the east and the west. He built a bridge without any promises, money, or technology’s help. Instead, he built it with love and from love. Just like Spring, and just like Pope John Paul, former President Ronald Reagan built bridges, not hate, between us people of the world. I loved hearing his speeches, his words, which came out of his mouth like an echo of the high mountains. They were all “deep” and sweet words, but not sweeter than what life could be. They were all words which lived in his heart, especially the one word, the word which made him a strong man, a great human being, a husband and a father – the word NANCY.
Throughout my life I have observed Nature and human mentality and I have concluded that this world has been composed good, beautiful people and too many very beautiful and very important but unknown people. It seems to me these people have not yet been counted in this world, but Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan counted them ALL. Two stars to whom most of us cannot be compared, live underneath the sky. They are Pope John Paul the 2nd and Ronald Reagan. God rest their souls in peace because they most certainly deserve it.
They died but they haven’t said goodbye to the world. I am getting old and tired. Some of you healthy life’s psychologists and philosophers, take over. They didn’t say goodbye. Feed the world with the truth which cannot, and will not, die.

The leap of the faithless-Muslimphobia in the US

Muslimphobia in the US is at an all time high, if one is to believe the polls. CNN will air a program Sunday regarding anti Muslim attitudes,"The Muslims Next Door". Here is a question I hope they will answer and explain to me: How would an act of terror committed in the US perpetrated by a young Muslim, who is either a sleeper planted some time ago, influenced by members of a local mosque  or one recruited over the Internet, cause the US  to embrace the Koran instead of the Bible and adopt Sharia law?

It certainly did not happen after 9/11 and instead, public opinion hardened and  cable talkers boosted their ratings and income to exploit irrational fears of their already skittish audiences. Jihadists became the new villains  of fiction writers, and politicians revelled in passing useless laws outlawing consideration of Sharia  in trials, condemning the building of mosques, holding hearings to gin up fear, and even trying to ban the practice of the Muslim religion.

 Here is what I do not get: some of the practices of Islam are due to interpretations of the Koran to which not even most Muslims subscribe and certainly most  in the US do not. Even then, Muslims in the US have little clout, constituting .6% of the population. They are very far from being a political force.  Some parts of the Koran indeed are not in our US Judeo-Christian cultural or religious traditions. Have  those subscribing  to Christianity have no faith that their religion would triumph if Americans were given a choice? Oh ye men and women of little faith,  I just do not get it.

Also not getting it, are those who do not understand the basic concepts of US law and our Constitution. For them fear overrides the protection of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, the understanding that secular laws in the US trump any contradictory religious practice.While the Koran permits beating a wife, it is assault and  battery in the US. While some interpret the Koran to permit killing a spouse for infidelity, it is murder in the US and has been so prosecuted here.

We do not need to just look at examples of  Muslims  to understand the concept of  superiority of US secular laws over religious practices: While some religions do not believe in medical treatment for their children, and the children die or nearly do, it is child abuse and neglect in the US.  While some Mormons interpret their religion to practice polygamy and marry underage children, it is considered rape by our laws. The old testament exhorts taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, yet if you  try to take some one's eye or tooth seeking revenge,  see where that gets you in the criminal justice system.  Some think their Christian belief gives someone the right to take a life to stop abortions. That gets them charged with murder. Some once  believed that they are  doing their Christian duty by donning white robes and hanging Negro offenders. Law enforcement may once have looked the other way , but today murder is murder and hate crimes are subject to special, more severe penalties.

  It is no wonder the courts put a hold on the Oklahoma law banning Sharia law as being  unnecessary.  Clearly, legislative anti Muslim  initiatives elsewhere ran into opposition because they were clearly unconstitutional.  Nonetheless,  anti-Muslims soldier on, ignoring these technicalities in their fear and hate driven zeal, fertilizing  the fields of xenophobia, paranoia, and ignorance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The GOP strategy is now clear

The GOP's strategy on the Libyan policy is clear: if Pres. Obama is for it, they will find a reason to be against it even though they were for it before. In fact, anything Obama does, they are against it as either too late, or too soon because Congress did not debate it or he did not  communicate it enough, costs too much,  violates their ideology in some way, and he did not take command as the US always does or shared too much command with others or shouldered too much of  the military action when others should have done it.

A US public opinion polls reported today on CNN is showing a 60% approval of Obama's Libya approach, mostly because he  was cautious.  Given the barrage of GOP criticism of whatever he did or  however he did it  and the curious joining forces with elements of the far left in opposing all military action, it is a wonder approval is that high.  Other polls show approval at 47% to 50%, depending upon how the pollster asked the questions . While the GOP cackles this is the lowest approval rating ever given a military action, it is similar to the 51% Bill Clinton scored for intervening in the Balkan wars, which the Libyan action most closely resembles. It appears engaging US troops for moral and humanitarian reasons has never been that popular.

Another reason  for the poll results could be  that loyalty to a  given US policy has not been put in the same terms as the W. Bush administration did in attacking  Iraq:
Remember those days when anyone criticized the administration for its excursion into Iraq they were accused of not supporting our troops? Those 71% who bought into that waved their flags, put stickers on their car windows, and sang patriotic songs lustily. That is a mind control technique fortunately not practiced by Obama. Instead, a war weary nation is approving his being cautious and being cautious is not conducive to flag waving anyway. Besides,  bitten as we are by the painful experiences with Iraq, we have been there, done that .

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In search of an energy policy even in Grand County, Colorado

Column appearing in the Sky Hi Daily News March 23, 2011, refers to  story published in the newspaper March 21 about a difference of opinion between county commissioners and the Town of Kremmling on permitting oil and gas leasing

The Japanese nuclear disaster has revived some old conflicted thoughts and musings about quo vadis of our national energy policy.

Why are the still very viable nuclear rods still stored in the former Platteville, Colo., St. Vrain nuclear power plant? The plant ended nuclear power generation in 1992 and reopened in 1996 to generate power by gas, instead. The answer points to an unsolved problem.

How and where do you dispose of nuclear waste? No one wants such depositories in their backyard. Nevada has so far blocked the Yucca Mountain site, but the Japanese crisis, which also involves on-site storage problems, is causing the Obama administration to reopen the issue.

In the meantime, recycling or burial and storage on a plant's site are the only alternatives. We can only hope the unspent hot nuclear rods left in place at St. Vrain are safely contained.

I do understand nuclear power's advantages of a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels; I only want nuclear energy used safely. While the U.S. has not had any major accidents since Three Mile Island, and gas and oil drilling and coal all have their risks, that still is no excuse not to mitigate the threat of damage as much as we can.

Our foreign policy regarding the Middle East is held hostage by our heavy reliance on their oil. Much of the cause of jihadist terrorism can be traced to angry reactions toward U.S. policy of supporting oppressive governments to ensure our continued supply. President Obama's shift to more support of democratic movements there should help, but it also raises uncertainties about who will control our access to oil.

In the meantime at home, our energy policies are politicized. The tension between the energy industry and environmentalists remains. Some react by denying a relationship between energy policy and climate change; others place environmental concerns over U.S. economic wellbeing. There must be a middle ground somewhere.

Conflict is being played out in Grand County, too, as county commissioners oppose proposed oil and gas leasing on environmental grounds and the town of Kremmling supports, seeing a potential to their economic development.

These energy vs. environment vs. safety vs. economics issues tend to end up as partisan political footballs with mostly Democrats supporting environmental legislation and mostly Republicans opposing. Decisions should be based on science and engineering, not on party affiliation.

President Obama has been an advocate for alternative energy sources and has set aside funds in stimulus bills and made it a spending priority. He has also embraced nuclear energy as one of those alternatives, and no doubt much will be learned from the Japanese disaster. His next challenge will be to replace old standards and regulations based on what we have learned and to overcome industry objections to changes.

The controversy over fracking to spring loose natural gas has pinpointed conflict between environmentalists and searchers for cleaner fuels. It has fallen to partisan politics. Democrats support requiring fracking to meet standards of clean air and water acts. Republicans do not. Yet gas has its advantages as a fuel source since it is less environmentally damaging than petroleum, while solar/wind are the least environmentally damaging.

Both are abundant in the U.S. and would get us off dependency on foreign oil and the consequences of our foreign policy decisions so harmful for our national security.

In addition to fracking's controversial impact on air and water quality, drilling for gas is still a threat to the pristine Colorado mountain areas and we should insist that the most fragile areas should be protected. Our Colorado economy is heavily dependent on eco-tourism, hunting and beauty. We humans have a responsibility to be wise stewards of a beautiful state. We must not foul our own nest.

Economically speaking, we need a responsible policy that balances these two competing economic generators, our air and water clean, protecting as much wilderness as we can, yet allowing natural gas production to succeed as a viable alternative until wind and solar can dominate.

— For more commentary, visit http://www.mufticforum.com/

The dither factor

Pres. Obama is being criticized for dithering on the decision to intervene in  Libya. The US is riding a tiger of unanticipated change over which it has  little control.  Congress wanted the right to dither as well, to debate the issue before authorizing action.  Which dither is more preferable?  Sometimes a  dither can be appropriate and in fact it can be a sign of wisdom.

By the time Congress has dithered, the  tank column moving on Benghazi would have finished off the rebellion, any moral support the US could have given to democratic movements elsewhere would have looked like a sham,  and any chance to ever oust Gadhafi would have been lost for a very long time as he entrenched himself deeper in power.  Any opposition would have been ground into blood soaked sands  for another generation as the sons Gadhafi continued the tradition of  the despotic rule of their father unchallenged. One can only imagine the revenge an  unbridled, rejuvenated Gadhafi family would take out on the West in the form of terrorism, a skill in which they excel.  So long as the opposition exists, gets training and develops leadership, international pressure and isolation may still  have a chance to cause the Gadhafi's family demise, even if the no fly zone fails to deliver the fatal  blow.

While Obama contemplated acting, time was not wasted.
The military prepared assets and targets, moving them into the Mediterranean  to make sure our options were viable , and  the Arab League and the UN were lined up  to avoid the US looking like it was just undertaking another imperialist move. Getting ducks in a row beats a rash act  any day, especially as the Middle East becomes a new reality of rebellion against oppressive governments we have counted as allies. The US did not cause the rebellions, the outcomes are uncertain, the new generation of leaders emerging beg new approaches, and as new democracies  form,  the opinion of the Arab street takes on  far more importance.  Obama's cautious approach  deserves praise given what is at stake in our future relations with the Middle East.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Obama's Leadership style

The neo con right is leading the charge to criticize Pres. Obama for his style of leadership. Their newest complaint is that he just has taken too long to make a decision on Libya.  These are words coming from  the same folks who brought us the folly in Iraq.  We are supposed to take advice from them?  Had much more careful thought been given before the Iraq blunder, we would have had a better chance  to have finished off the Taliban and Bin Laden in Afghanistan...instead of getting our manpower and assets stuck in the tar pits of the unexpected, diversionary  quagmire of Iraq.

The neo cons and their fellow travellers did infinite harm to the ability of the US to win the hearts and minds of the middle eastern street.  Our US popularity ratings sank from some admiration to condemnation for advocating democracy and on the other hand hypocritically  supporting some of the most cruelly oppressive governments in the world, while launching the preemptive invasion of  a country that did not attack us. 

Hypocricy was and is not confined to our exercise of our foreign policy.  The world does take note of those who would violate democracy in order to save it.   US talk show personalities, some politicians, and other writers find a lucrative audience for their anti Muslim hate and fear mongering. Even some who acknowledge that 90% of world Muslims are not jihadists are ready to chuck tolerance of law abiding Muslims in the US  guaranteed by the flowery language of our constitution. Ginning up hatred and irrational fear is no way to win the war for hearts and minds anywhere .

Obama, with his address in Egypt  to his support of  the rebeling youth in North Africa, sees the bigger picture. Many of top leadership and proponents of the ideological rationale driving Al Qaeda came from Egypt and other North African countries. Winning the war against the terrorists  will  depend heavily on our yanking out from under the jihadists  their fertile grounds of hatred of the West on which they rely.

Obama's carefulness in convincing the Arabs to support any military action in Libya is not a matter of dithering; it is a careful structuring in our shift from imperialism to supporting the aspirations of the young, who will be calling the shots in their countries' foreign relations for generations to come.  Obama is playing for the long term and the bigger picture, while the failed approach of the past has been abandoned.

This is finesse....not bulling around in the china closet as his predecessors have done.  Being thoughtful, weighing the options, constructing a wise strategy and looking at the bigger picture is an asset and not a liability.. It is this message Obama's supporters ought to be shouting out from the platform of modern communications, web and cable talk.

We do not know yet if the intervention in Libya will succeed. It has just begun. But Obama has made his point: there is a shift in US policy toward greater support of the aspirations of the people of the middle east.

Pres. Obama has also wisely put the onus on France and the UK.  They do have strategic interests there. We may provide coordinating support, but for once our allies have stepped up to the plate and the Arab League applauds.   

If anything, Obama has appears to have learned from his predecessors .  By putting most of the burden for military actions on others, we have not taken our eye off the Afghanistan conflict or overextended ourselves as we did in Iraq....or get our ground troops stuck in an interminable mess.  Taking the neo cons' advice would have have us repeat an unfortunate history of acting rashly first and being surprised by  unanticipated consequences.

While our support of Saudi Arabia and the still oppressive regimes in Yemen and  Bahrain are contradictions of our shift in policy, at least our support of democratic movements in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya represent the direction the Obama administration prefers and is willing to support when our strategic oil interests are not at such a risk. Even then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a stern lecture today to Bahrain to  become more answerable to its people and  to stop the violence against them.  The implication is that even strategic friends must stop being despots. Whether these words will be backed up by actions is yet to be seen, but the warning has been issued and the tone has been set.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Raising more questions about St Vrain: rod storage

Why are the still very viable nuclear rods still stored in the former Colorado St. Vrain nuclear power plant? A report on local TV news showed their picture last night. The answer points to a bigger question: How and where do you dispose of nuclear waste? Yucca Mountian controversy is a NYMBY...no one wants them in their back yard...especially where fault lines run through the burial sites. On site nuclear waste has been involved in the Japanese nuclear disaster and the issue of nuclear storage is being raised again in Washington.

I am not opposed to nuclear power; I understand its advantages as a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels   I only want use of nuclear energy done safely and nuclear power advocates and regulatory agencies have a history of not being forthcoming.  While we have not had any major accidents since Three Mile Island and gas and oil drilling and coal all have their risks and potential of environmental damage, that still is no excuse to improve safety and to mitigate the threat of  damage as much as we can. The disposal of storage of nuclear waste is a problem that  must be resolved.

The current controversy over fracking to spring loose natural gas is a case in point of how these energy/environmental issues become politicized. I do believe natural gas is the intermediate fuel of choice provided using it is not a substitute for the necessary goal of establishing solar and wind as our ultimate energy source as soon as possible.  Both gas and solar/wind are the least environmentally damaging and the most safe. Both are abundant and would get us off dependency on foreign oil and the consequences of  our foreign policy decisions regarding the Middle East being controlled by our reliance so heavily on their oil. Much of the cause of jihadist terrorism can be traced to angry reactions toward  US policy of supporting oppressive governments to insure our continued supply.

 However, drilling for gas is still a threat to the pristine Colorado mountain areas and we should insist that  other areas less fragile should be exploited first.  Our Colorado economy is heavily dependent on eco tourism, hunting and beauty. Economics speaking: we need a responsible policy that balances these two competing economic generators. Besides, we as humans have a responsibility to be wise stewards of a beautiful state. After all, that is why so many of us live here: the unspoiled beauty of the place. We must not foul our own nest.

Somehow or other, these energy vs environment vs safetyvs economic issues tend to end up as political footballs and self serving industry spins.  Decisions should be about  science and engineering; not about political  or industry advocacy. Given the tendency of every issue to end up in some sort of partisan debate, perhaps that is just expecting too much.

Colorado's Ft. St. Vrain nuclear power safety history

One advantage of being old is the ability to tap into old memories.  If my memory serves me, reporters are missing the story behind why the Colorado power plant ceased generating electricity by nuclear energy  while it was still young. I have heard TV media reporters repeat what must be the industry line: it was not economical to do so.  I believe that it was due to the fallout from Chernobyl.  The type of the two plants were so similar, that there was fear that the Chernobyl disaster could happen here.  It is worth diving into old newspaper archives to which I do not have access instead of just taking Public Service's or the current owner, Excel's, word for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Looking at the revenue side of the deficit equation

In the post 2008 economic crash world, raising taxes  to increase revenue to solve the deficit problem   has been a third rail of politics.  About 40% of the deficit, according to many experts, is due to the decline of tax revenue because of the decline in economic activity.  As the economy recovers, some of the deficit will go away.

The response of the Tea Party and the GOP has been to cut, cut, cut...and shrink, shrink shrink government to bring expenses into balance with funds available. In so doing, they have heartlessly  placed the burden of cuts on the poor, needy, families, education, infrastructure, job creation and social safety nets.   They want to reduce the size of government even more just for the sake of shrinking government. It is their ideological imperative. They will address entitlement cuts if the Democrats take the fall for it.

The Democrats have countered with class warfare: raise the taxes on the rich but do not raise taxes on the middle class.  Cut defense. Do not cut entitlements.

If resolving the debt  is a long term  goal to which both parties subscribe, their loyalty to both ideology and constituent support has brought them to an impasse.

The Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission has a proposal that has not yet garnered some serious interest:  flatten the tax more (though allow a degree of graduation) for both corporate and individuals, and cut out loopholes.  How this would be constructed would determine  how much much more revenue would be generated, but advantages would be several: It would shuffle the deck so that the sacred cows of special interests would be lost in the fog of  so many  changes at  one time they would have difficulty  selling their  self  serving   cases to the general public to keep their loopholes in tact.. The other would be to remove the constant pressure from special interests and put a damper on the institutional corruption that campaign contributions feed.  It might result in lower taxes and increased revenue. It might not...but it is worth exploring seriously.

An argument against fundamentally changing the tax structure is that no matter how it is done, special interests will keep amending it in the future to reinsert loopholes.  That may be true, but it would be nice to begin at a lower baseline than the screwed up structure we have now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GOP proposed budget cuts hit those behind a tree

My column in the Sky Hi Daily News, March 16, 2011.  It is a cry of frusration with Congress and the GOP in particular.

Looking at the GOP's proposed budget cuts, Republicans are careful not to harm their base. Instead, they zero in on women and children services ,education, homeless vets, and neighborhood health centers for the poor, as well as their long time ideological bugaboos, the EPA and NPR.

The late Sen. Russell Long's oft repeated jingle, “Don't tax you; don't tax me; tax that fellow behind the tree ...” is cynical enough, but the GOP's current budget platform could also read: I won't cut you (my esteemed voting base's interests); I won't cut me (or those who contribute to me); I'll cut those women, poor and kids behind the tree (they either do not vote or they vote for the other party).

I watched C-Span the other night as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson presented their bold plan to reduce the deficit to a Senate committee. As both said, GOP's budget cuts and the Democrats' proposals do not even begin to put a dent into the deficit problem. It is going to take reforming entitlements. If so, both political parties have to look way past their closest trees and get serious, or else they will put many through needless pain.

Both parties watched their respective proposals die for lack of votes in Congress, but they met their campaign promises to make the effort for the record and have postured their ideologies ad nauseam. It is time to stop daring the other side to commit political suicide by being first to advocate making the hard choices on entitlements. The GOP squirmed out of their responsibility so far by calling Pres. Obama's low keying the budget conflict a “failure of leadership” ... daring him to make the first move. This reminds me of the childrens' bait tactic: sticking out a tongue, flapping ears and sing songing na na na.

The truth: Congress and the White House have demonstrated an equal reluctance to commit political suicide in tackling entitlements. Congress criticizing the president for lack of leadership is the pot calling the kettle black. If the proposals that will actually deal with long term deficits are politically too painful, all should take the fall together so that they either both get blame or get credit simultaneously.

Complicating the ability to make the hard choices is that the short term and long term solutions are at odds with one another. Cutting government expenditures now while we still have an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, according to the economists at Goldman Sachs, would cost the U.S. 700,000 jobs and hurt our immediate recovery. On the other hand, GOP philosophy regarding government cuts has some validity in trickling down the economic levels to create jobs, but trickling down is a long term deal.

Obama's preparation for 2012 is to win the future. He will make the argument that while the short term economy is bad, we need to look beyond 2012 and not let the expediency of cuts in education, energy, and infrastructure destroy future job growth. It will be a difficult sell. Voters are not inclined to think in long term and usually focus on what ox is being gored du jour.

The GOP likes to counter Democrats in the trickle down versus government stimulus debate with some logic defying arguments: They claim “the stimulus failed because x number of jobs were lost.”

If we had followed the Republican trickle down, laissez faire philosophy in 2008, the number of unemployed would arguably have equaled the Depression rate of over 20 percent and our economy would have indeed fallen off the cliff. Remind a Republican of that and watch him/her quickly change the subject or simply restate the trickle down theory.

The Republicans claim government spending sucks up capital available for investment, but the problem is not a lack of capital. Plenty of private capital is sitting on the sidelines. The GOP blames uncertainty for that yet Republicans and Democrats, share the blame for the uncertainty as they gridlock over who behind the tree they cut.

Monday, March 14, 2011

King hearings and shaping American attitudes toward Muslims

Since the  hearings  conducted by Peter King  looking into the dangers of radicalization of American Muslims took place only this past week  it is too soon to know if King was successful in making more Americans fear Muslims. 
 I suspect the needle will not move much on the anti Muslim opinion polls because US attitudes have already hardened depending upon certain demographics and political affiliation.  Recent polls indicated that Republicans were more inclined than Democrats to be anti Muslim. The PEW poll revealed also that seniors and the uneducated were more likely to oppose the rights of Muslims. Public  opinion  has already  been influenced by demographics, and party affiliation  so that   a brief one sided, narrowly focused  hearing may not make much difference.
   A Gallup poll taken the day of the hearings showed only 36% of American Muslims think American Muslims are “too extreme in the religious beliefs” while 50% do not, and only 28 percent think they are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda while 54% do not. yet only 53% of Americans believed Muslims were loyal to the US . However, many Americans are  more are more tolerant in spite of their suspicions. A Pew poll taken last summer revealed 65% of Americans believed Muslims had the same right to build mosques as practitioners of other religions did.  

Anti Muslim fear mongers on blogs, cable talk, and emails have made much of passages in the Koran taken either out of context or contradicted by other passages to claim that the religious beliefs of Muslims are de facto dangerous to Americans because they promote violence and jihad against Christians and have as their goals to take us over and establish a Caliphate. Certainly some Muslims do believe that and Osama Bin Laden is one who does.  Most Muslims do not follow that line of jihadism. Peter Bergen in his recent book 
"The Longest War" relates how some of Bin Laden's  closest associates did not believe killing innocents was justified and Bin Laden kept the details of plans of 9/11 from them until the very last.  A Gallup poll taken  of Muslims world wide two years ago
revealed that 93% did not believe their religion justified 9/11 and the killing of innocents.  Those who did support the Al Qaeda actions on 9/11 attributed the motivation for 9/11 to political reasons...the Israeli Palestine conflict and US support of brutal dictatorships. 
 What Kings’ abbreviated hearing failed to do was to show no  more than anecdotal and already reported evidence that some American Muslim youth were recruited to the radical cause.. No new evidence was presented to substantiate  claims by some cable talk show guests   that radical Muslims had penetrated all levels of the US government or all mosques  so that probably the needle will not move much on  the trust  issue.
Source of polls can be found at www.mufticforum.com/footnotes

Saturday, March 12, 2011

World wide poll of Muslims: 93% : religion did not justify 9/11

We hear so much from those who would like to attribute 9/11 to  the Koran' teachings  to gin up fear and hatred of  Muslims need to take note of this poll conducted by Gallup.  Politics is the driver; not religion.  www.pensitoreview.com/.../poll-majority-muslims-worldwide-condemn-9-11

93% Muslims surveyed did not believe religion justified 9/11

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How King's hearings on radical Muslims could backfire

Column appearing in the print edition of the SkyHiDaily News, March 9, 2011
I thought I was reliving the McCarthy era in this Sunday morning's news programs when I heard Congressman Peter King (R-NY) is launching hearings to remind us of the danger of radical Muslims.

It is his goal to advocate for his position that Congress should not cut funds he wants for Homeland Security. Instead of the Red Scare of McCarthyism, we now have the Green Scare of the 21st century.

This criticism of the King hearings in no way means we should stop being vigilant in seeking out those home-grown radicals or nipping their violent plans in the bud. They do present a threat.

However, the hearings solely focusing on what we should fear could also cause us to take action again that would actually increase the threat to us both internally and externally.

There could be some other unintended consequences … and that is to paint the law abiding, loyal Muslim-Americans, 0.6 percent of the US population, with the same broad brush of the radicalism of a few. In a sense, this approach is as dangerous as the McCarthy era, which destroyed anyone who had a slightly pinko tinge.

Many careers were unfairly ruined because of black-listing. However, if it got out of hand, searching for a few bad actors within a group of adherents of a religion could give already fearful Americans more cause to view all Muslims as a danger.

It would further undermine our values of tolerance and our Constitutional protections. Blind, fear-driven, anti-Muslim legislation in Oklahoma and Tennessee already has been proposed or passed.

The winner in the King approach could be exactly the one King views as the enemy: al-Qaida and their ilk. Al-Qaida so far has failed to launch a major attack against the U.S. since Sept. 11, but to fight the devil of America by scaring the wits out of Americans helps them meet their goal of a small number's ability to terrorize us.

We should be careful that we do not empower al-Qaida by exaggerating their influence. Bin Laden must be sitting back in his Pakistan cave feeling emboldened by thinking so few can have so much of an impact on us.

Dangerous too is losing perspective as we develop national policy. If we are driven by an atmosphere of irrational fear, we might support policy decisions that that gets result opposite from what we intended. The King hearings could contribute to ginning up such fear.

The neo-cons in the Bush administration saw Saddam as their real enemy long before Sept. 11. They were able to convince us with a campaign of fear and misinformation that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 when there was no evidence. Their ruse rallied Americans in support of a diversionary action which permitted a resurgence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and renewed Muslims' hatred toward the West, fueling the cause of jihadism for years.

The same neo-cons responsible for the Iraq invasion are at it again, urging us on cable talk this week to intervene in Libya , agreeing with Gadhafi, it appears, that the rebellion would lead to resurgence of al-Qaida there. There is far more evidence that the goal of the insurgents is for the end of corruption and a reign of terror. Like the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the rebels have not made anti-Americanism the cause of their uprising or supported the goal of jihadists to replace one dictatorship with a tyrannical Islamic state . American policy should work to keep it that way.

If not handled carefully, any American military intervention could play into the radicalization of many more Muslims outside the U.S. who already see us as the invaders, and it would further inspire our home-grown jihadists to action.

As we tune into King's hearings, let us keep the Green Threat grounded in reality and not be stampeded into ill thought out action by an atmosphere of irrational fear.

For more commentary, visit www.mufticforum.com. To comment, visit www.skyhidailynews.com

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

GOP proposed budget cuts hit those behind a tree

Looking at the GOP's proposed budget cuts, Republicans carefully do not touch their base. Instead, they zero in on women and children services,education,  homeless vets, and neighborhood health centers for the  poor, as well as their long time bugaboos, the EPA and NPR.

The late Sen. Russell Long's oft repeated jingle, "Don't tax you; don't tax me;  tax that fellow behind the tree"...is cynical enough, but the GOP's current budget platform could also read:  I won't cut you (my esteemed voting base's interests); I won't cut me (or those who contribute to me); I'll cut those women, poor,and kids behind the tree (they either do not vote or they vote for the other party). The Democrats just cut less of anything, but were also sensitive to their respective base.

I watched C-Span last night to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson present their bold plan to reduce the deficit to a Senate committee.  As they said, GOP's budget cuts and the Democrats'  proposals do not even begin to put a dent into the deficit problem.  It  is going to take reforming   entitlements. If so, both parties have to look behind their trees and get serious, or else put many through needless pain.

Now that both parties have their respective  proposals die for lack of votes, their campaign promises met, and postured their ideologies  ad nausea, it is time to get serious, deal and horse trade, and stop daring the other side to commit political suicide by being first to advocate the hard choices. Calling Pres. Obama's low keying the budget issue so far  a"failure of leadership" reminds me of the childrens'  bait tactic:  sticking out a tongue, flapping ears, and  sing songing na na na .

  If the choices are politically too painful, both parties  should take the fall together so that they either both get blame or get  credit simultaneously. That is the only way finger pointing in 2012 will be kept to a roar and the only way we will get even a fraction of the Simpson-Bowles plan enacted before or after the upcoming elections.

 Now is the time for the President to knock some heads and force a compromise which both parties could endorse.  That would be leadership indeed worthy of an adult and smart politics, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What should we do with Freddie and Fannie

Fannie and Freddie cannot be dissolved any time in the near future.  They are sitting on probably a couple hundred billion dollars of losses (no one really knows for sure what the bill is, but it is enormous).  If they are dissolved in the next few years it is certainly the taxpayers who will be on the hook for that money.  If Fannie and Freddie continue to manage the existing problems and have the chance to make some money, over time,  they should be able to reduce that loss.  This is kicking the can down the road, but the alternative is politically impossible and there would be a LOT of finger pointing.

Long term -- the biggest single problem with Fannie and Freddie is that they operated like private-sector companies under the US Government umbrella.    Their executives  got to take home private sector wages and bonuses for taking risks that could be be socialized due to the implicit government backstop.     And because of that implicit government guarantee,   Fannie and Freddie also  faced political pressures from both the left and the right to meet what were essentially  “political” objectives such as expanding home ownership (no matter what the consequences), or facilitating the ability of Wall Street to make huge profits (no matter what the consequences).

Many people try to pin the blame on Fannie and Freddie for the 2008 crisis.  This is unfair.  The whole mortgage system was corrupt from the mortgage brokers who found ways to make bad borrowers look good, to the appraisers who helped to spiral UP home values, to the lenders who  severely loosened underwriting standards, to the rating agencies who did not act like trusted fiduciaries, and to Wall Street who ultimately benefited from this merry-go-round to package and sell a range of highly exotic and toxic investments.   The private market in this case failed miserably due to fraud, greed, a lack of accountability, and extremely poor regulatory oversight.  The left should not have pushed so hard for unqualified borrowers, and the right should not have pushed so hard for a failed deregulation of the industry.  And there were really no grown-ups running the show at Fannie and Freddie.

For many years, Fannie and Freddie performed a very critical role in creating an extremely viable and liquid mortgage market that greatly improved the availability of capital and lowered the cost of homeownership.  The American consumer benefited extremely well from this system and we were the envy of the world .  As private sector companies, though, the executives had real incentives to game the system over time to their advantage and this coincided nicely with the crazy fiscal and monetary policies at the turn of the century.

So what are the main alternatives?  Keep them as public –sector companies.   As 100% public-sector  companies, they will continue to face  political pressures to do the bidding of whichever party is in power.  Not good.

Make them totally private-sector?   The reality is that without some form of Gov’t involvement or guarantee, we would significantly prolong the recovery of the housing market and make home ownership prohibitively more expensive, more unaffordable and destroy another myth of the “American dream”.  Also not Good

So what is my suggestion?  First, let’s get Fannie and Freddie back to doing what they do best – as public-sector companies.  The Government’s backstop role is too important to abandon now and in the future.   We need to get the mortgage market functioning again and fast.  Second – let’s make sure that there is adult “oversight” of the mortgage system and processes.  That means ensuring that Fannie and Freddie can no longer be  a political football.

There is only one entity that I think has the skills and the ability to oversee and manage Fannie and Freddie in a responsible way -  The Federal Reserve.  Let’s make Fannie and Freddie subsidiaries of the Fed and thus under the Fed’s “umbrella” of independence and give the Fed clear supervisory  oversight.  The Fed has the ability to understand systemwide risks and the good sense to maintain credible and realistic underwriting standards.

Theodore B. Muftic
Chief Investment Officer
Invenio Capital

Ted Muftic is a contributor to The Muftic Forum and this blog. His biography and credentials can be found at http://www.mufticforum.com/
Invenio Capital is a capital investment firm in real estate

Why Peter King's hearings are so dangerous

The answer to the question about why Peter King's hearings are so dangerous? They gin up anti Muslim hate groups.  What is dangerous about anti Muslim hate groups? An atmosphere of hatred of one religion can come back to bite other religious groups. Are there already hate groups? Yes there are.

Politico today reported  about the mainstreaming of anti Muslim groups already formed. ACT!, with over a million dollars in funding is one of them.  Oklahoma has already passed an anti Sharia law measure (which the courts put on hold). Tennessee has witnessed attempts to pass anti Muslim legislation.

Since Pres. Obama was a candidate, my in-box has been flooded with anti Muslim hate messages...claiming that the religion itself is dangerous and so all Muslims are dangerous.  Usually that kind of blanket condemnation of all practitioners of a religion has come from those in the South, but the gist is something like this: this or that excerpt says it is permissible to kill Christians and innocents in the name of the Koran. (Never mind other passages of the Koran contradict ).Of course, that is the same interpretation Jihadists, Bin Laden and other extremists use to justify a political goal of unseating Muslim leaders with whom they disagree. They advocate defanging America as a way to unseat the moderate, secular and sometimes oppressive  Muslim governments the US has supported.

Many other Muslims do not adhere to  extremists' interpretation, but they, too, are painted with the same brush.  Muslim haters are ignorant of the various practices of Islam and  that the application of Sharia law  varies to large extremes from one country to another .  However I am not hopeful their bigotry would be replaced with fact and knowledge. It has not happened since 9/11 and rationality is not a hallmark of those whose prejudices blind their hearts and minds.

Aside from the fact that these measures may be unconstitutional, play right into the hands of jihadists and make it difficult to conduct foreign policy in an already dangerous world (see my column which will run in tomorrow's www.skyhidailynews), there are other reasons to believe the King hearings are dangerous.

Hate of one religion can spawn intolerance of other religions...plain and simple.  If the public gives tacit approval of one group that spreads hatred against one  religion , it makes it easier for others to believe it is acceptable to hate another religion. That truism used to guide the Anti Defamation League for years...who preached tolerance of all religions as a way to combat anti semitism.  Lately, the ADL backtracked, and they lost my respect. Nonetheless, the truism is still a truism.  In short: what goes around comes around. 

This country has seen its share of anti Catholicism, and any number of anti this and anti that. JFK's election  broke the barrier of hatred against Catholics, but it was not without pain. We have gone through cross burning, the red scare of McCarthyism and now we have the Green Scare of the anti Muslims.  Flush with money, with witch hunting fervor justified by the likes of King,  anti Muslim groups are ready to take on the US electorate and poke a finger in the eye of the rights given minority religions by the US Constitution. Shame on us and shame on them if they gain more strength because of these hearings.

Monday, March 7, 2011

If jobs jobs jobs are the issues in 2012, Democrats have a good talking point ..

The blame game will be played out in 2012 and one of the major fields of battle will be jobs, jobs, jobs.

The 2011 political year kicked off with Rep. Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee , promising to hold Obama care to the standard of the number of jobs won or lost. Not heard much from that quarter, lately.   So independent financial services report the budget cuts being proposed could lead to a loss of 700,000 and the  budget cuts in state houses all over the country are threatening public employee lay offs.  Of course, greedy tenured teachers and greedy firefighters and greedy police officers do not count...because laid off public employees do not file for unemployment benefits  nor do they stop going to Walmart to spend money nor do our services such as teaching our kids or answering 911quickly  mean much, do they? Right?

 "So be it", said House Majority leader John Boehner. The job figures mean not much to the Republicans if public employees are the ones laid off.  Besides, if the 8.9% unemployment figure rises, they can always blame Obama in 2012 and say it was due to the fact the did not cut enough.Or can they?

I can see the campaign ads run by  Democrats in 2012 now looping  Boehners' "so be it" statement.  He has given the Democrats a gift of a great sound bite that will come back to take a chunk out of the Republicans' behinds if the jobless figures remain above 8%, thanks to that  quote. The advantage in the blame game  belongs to the Democrats thanks to that one boner.

If the jobs picture  improves as it is trending now, and even enough to compensate for the loss of public sector jobs, the  advantage tilts even more likely for the Democrats.

Either way, the Democrats stand a good chance to win the argument.

No wonder Republicans are trying to change the focus from the jobs issue to the deficit and balancing the
 budget. The jobs issue is beginning to look like it may be a Democratic positive talking point no matter what side of the 8% mark the jobless rate hovers by 2012. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Local business, organizations, and foundations pitch in $500K to keep schools open

One county's response to  the threatened closure of two elementary schools: business, Chambers of Commerce, foundations, and others contribute $500K, buying a year's time to find permanent funding. See http://www.skyhidailynews.com/ March 4 2011
The value of education is recognized by them; now it is up to those in the county, with or without children
in school to step up to the plate and do the same when they are asked to raise the sales tax.  This is what happens when state funding, federal funding is cut in the rush to balance budgets and deficits on the backs of our childrens' education. There is no such thing as a free lunch and there is no such thing as a thriving community without educating their young.  Someone has to pay for it and the burden is shifted to the local communities to step up to the plate. Those who rail at sticking our next generation with debt are often those who do not mind defunding public education and sticking the next generation with the inability to make a living in an ever competitive world.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Buddy Roemer said some things that hit home on Morning Joe this AM

Buddy Roemer,  former governor of Louisiana who lost his position to  KKK David Duke and who switched from a Democrat to a Republican while in office, is a true populist. He is throwing his hat into the ring for the GOP nomination. While I remain a firm supporter of Pres. Obama because I too see him as a reformer driven more by idealism than corruption, more of  populist than not, and tempered by incumbent experience in foreign policy,    what  Roemer said rang a bell in several fronts:
1. He railed against "institutional" corruption of those for sale in Washington to campaign contributors and when leaving DC are looking for the next job with their favorite special interest (I am paraphrasing...since these points are not exactly posted on his web site)
2. Health care reform: I have always agreed with the point he raised: we need tort reform. He claimed it would reduce health care costs 15%. (I am not sure how he arrives at this, but I do believe mal practice suits can be reformed using a wide variety of  tools besides just putting caps on pain and suffering awards...arbitration or other lower cost ways to settle disputes)
3. Subjecting health insurers to Sherman Anti Trust action.  Currently they are exempted, which means they are free to work out pricing with their competitors and indulge in other anti competitive practices.  Blue Cross and United and other major insurers straddle state lines...with a sister company in other states...making a mockery of cross state competition as a way to lower health care costs.  If there is an Achilles heel to Obamacare, it is that depending upon competition to keep costs down within the exchange program will be ineffective without anti trust action.  If there is an Achilles heel to the GOP claiming cross state competition and letting the private sector compete instead of Obamacare, this is it, too. Health insurance is not a free market system now; it will take anti trust action to make competition happen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The root of Obama's liberalism is not growing up in Kenya. Growing up poor and a minority in a multicultural society is enough to do it all by itself.

Mike Huckabee's misspeak attributing Obama's liberalism to his growing up in mao mao Kenya was not only  inaccurate and a thoughtless pander to his right wing audience, he  misunderstands the reason so many are liberal. They have empathy for those who do not mirror their own image.or personal circumstances.

It is being able to walk in others' shoes that often differentiates some liberals from some conservatives.  Life experiences have much to do with one's world view and empathy for others. Take it from one who knows. I grew up in the most xenophobic, isolated, racist community one could ever imagine: Muskogee, Oklahoma in the 1950's.  Most of my friends may have moved away to Texas or other nearby states, but they  have not changed their viewpoints very much since childhood.  Vestiges of that mentality apparently still exist in Oklahoma.

I often laugh that I have empathy for the plight of  minorities because I was a minority in an overwhelming majority community.  I attribute that to the reason  I  turned out to be more liberal in my political views than my friends.  I was a Presbyterian in a Southern Baptist town.  The rest of us non Baptists had a tacit understanding that we understood what it was to be different...and the handful of Jews, Catholics,  Episcopalians,Presbyterians and Methodists had an unspoken bond. My life led me to live and study abroad and I had frequent interface with Muslims in the Balkans for over 50 years.  No doubt these experiences have shaped my own political viewpoints and a belief that others not like us can be good people, too, and their views do not always threaten our way of life.

The birther movement is certainly fueled by Pres. Obama's comes very exotic background...exotic because he has had experiences many others have not.  He never touched a foot in Kenya until he was a young man..nor ever did his mother ever. He  spent his middle school years in Indonesia and his high school years in multi racial, multi cultural Hawaii.  His mother's' life and even the modest lifestyle when he lived with his White grand parents certainly gave him an understanding of what it means to struggle financially.

Obama spent his early adulthood trying to understand  and find his unorthodox  identity and he accepted that he was an African American.  No wonder he is more liberal than those whose lives  have been insular and who are part of a majority religion and race , and have a world view  shared  with whom they almost exclusively associate.

 Oklahomans approved a ballot issue outlawing Sharia law and some in Tennessee are attempting now to pass other anti Muslim legislation.  Tennessee and Oklahoma share similar accents and cultural backgrounds. Many of Eastern Oklahoma settlers were transplants from the Southeastern US.  I am not at all surprised that both Oklahoma and Tennessee have been the first in advocating anti Muslim actions.  Both have citizens willing to trounce on the rights of Muslims, torching mosques and/or passing laws that demonstrate ignorance of other cultures, even to the point of restricting Muslims' rights to practice their religion.

What I do not understand is how some Americans who profess to defend our Constitution regarding  so many other issues do not grasp the essence of the Amendments protecting the rights of all to practice their religions or  to understand that the supremacy of federal laws trump any religious laws. True conservatism ought to be about supporting the basic fundamentals of the Constitution, not radically interpreting  them to fit personal piques.  But what do I know. I am just a liberal...or maybe I am the true conservative who would like to defend the basic  principles of the document that protects   minorities from being overwhelmed by  an absolute majority

Column for March 2,2011: Fear Sharia law? Women have more to fear in the US now.

Terrified of Sharia law? We women only need to look closer to home to find some Republicans who want to put us back into the Middle Ages. 

The Shariaphobia would be comical if it were not such a pervasive talking point in right wing media. Last November, citizens of Oklahoma voted to outlaw Sharia law in their home state. Execution of it was immediately put on hold by the courts as unnecessary. No one was ever contemplating considering Sharia law in court rulings.

Shariaphobia is spreading to more open minded states, as well. I received a mailing from conservative Colorado former Senator Bill Armstrong giving us a choice between our constitution or Sharia law. The thesis? Freedom of religion should not be extended to Muslims since they promote violence. Both the Oklahomans and Armstrong's writer exhibit extreme ignorance of the uneven and selective cherry picking application of Sharia law that varies from Muslim country to country. They also have a basic lack of understanding of the primacy of secular laws in the US.

For those not familiar with Sharia law, it is a system of religious based law not found in the Koran, but it was written by those who interpreted the Koran (some would argue falsely) to restrict the rights of women to own property, to divorce among other anti-women measures. Where Oklahomans and everyone else caught up in this paranoia go off the rails is that our Federal and State laws always trump local religious “laws.” Just ask the Mormon sect who try to get away with polygamy and rape of underage girls about that.

So long as women have the vote in the US, Sharia law stands a chance of becoming the law of our land less than an ice cube surviving in a cauldron of a volcano. Our secular democracy, with separation of church and state, is likewise our greatest protection from anything like Sharia law being imposed on us unwillingly as part of an established official religion. We need to guard that protection provided in our Bill of Rights with vigilance. Besides, Muslims constitute less than 1 percent of the US population and even if they were united in a goal to turn us all into Muslims, they have a long way to go.

What women ought to fear, however, is a home grown, real, and immediate threat: some members of the Republican Party and even in some cases, official GOP policy itself. Our gains we have fought for and won since the ‘60's are threatened by them now.

A Georgia state legislator wants to change the legal term for those who were victims of rape, stalking and domestic violence from “victim” to “an accuser.” Such female victims would no longer be referred to as victims, reviving the age old prejudice used as a defense by men that it was always the woman's fault. Glad he did not propose throwing stones at the “accusers.” At least that.

In Congress, Republicans have proposed that hospitals would allow a woman to die rather than perform a lifesaving abortion. Yesiree. They want to let government take away doc's and a woman's discretion to decide who would have a right to life.

Here's one for the Taliban books: Maryland Republicans ended all money for low income preschool programs because “women should really be home with kids, not out working.” Whatever happened to welfare reform that put welfare women to work? What are we back to: Nazi era “Kinder, Kuchen, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church)?

This one is great for horse lovers but not for female humans: In Congress, Republicans voted on cutting all federal funding from Planned Parenthood and are promoting eliminating all funds for federal family planning programs. However there is a bill introduced by a Republican to provide contraception for wild horses.

Just tell me it is not true, Republicans. Spare me from GOPhobia.

To comment go to http://www.skyhidailynews.com/. Documentation is posted at www.mufticforum.com/footnotes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Obama called neo state rightests' bluff on health care reform

Obama called neo state rightests' bluff on health care reform yesterday when he moved up the date to 2014 when States could develop their own health care reform plan and opt out of the Federal one. The hitch: state plans would have to conform to the federal plan in coverage and consumer protections. Not permitted would be a state plan that would not cover the currently uninsured, or give the same protections against abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, among others.   Given the current sad condition of the finances of state government, that was almost like saying: yes my darling daughter, you may go swimming; just do not go near the water.  States are going to have a difficult time paying for a new plan on their own when they cannot manage even their current budget deficits.

One of the most fascinating debates of our pre 2012 election times is the mantra of the GOP and Tea Partyers that we should let states do their own problem solving, a belief that the Federal Government is too big and too bad v. Democrats who see the Federal government as the problem solver. Now let us sit back and watch which states will even be able to opt out of "Obamacare" and go down the road of "Romneycare" which many in the GOP opposing Mitt Romney's bid for President have so soundly condemned.

For those who like to see the GOP squirm, this "challenge" should be great political theater.